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Monday, August 25, 2014

Excerpt from The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics (From Chapter 8: Chasing Down Heresies Where None Exist)

This picture makes more sense after reading the article.

(From Chapter 8: Chasing Down Heresies Where None Exist)

Randal comes back to his contention of Victor Stenger’s assessment that God is an astonishing hypothesis,[1] and wastes no time stating his grievances, informing:

I disagree with the assumption that Christians need to justify their belief in God as a hypothetical posit that’s supposed to explain some feature of their experience. Certainly one could argue for God in this way, but it’s not the usual way Christians think about God. From the Christian perspective, God is not a hypothesis; rather, he’s a lived reality.

We can’t help but wonder, if God is not a facet of experience but he is a lived reality, then what is a lived reality if not an experience of reality? And if you cannot derive a hypothesis about that reality from experience, then how can you be sure it’s reality that you are experiencing and not, for example, a hallucination or a delusion?
I think Randal is doing a bit of special pleading here. After all, why is it that the Christian reality the only one worth considering? What about the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist realities? What about all of the other world religions and their respective realties?
Moreover, Randal hasn’t actually addressed why God is not a hypothesis, strictly speaking, but he does mention that

If atheists really want to understand Christians, they need to get over the assumption that the only way to have reasonable beliefs or knowledge of God is by way of hypothesis inference.

I feel that I must address two things here. First, it seems Randal is making a horribly bad assumption when he thinks atheists do not, or cannot, understand Christians or Christian thinking.
Case in point, I was a devout Christian for three decades, and spent the better part of thirty long years steeped in the Christian faith. Even though I am no longer a Christian, it doesn’t automatically mean that every experience I had was meaningless or that I forgot everything I learned when I was a believer. I simply have had a change of mind, but that doesn’t make me in any way na├»ve of my past thirty years of Christian belief. But listening to how Randal puts it you would almost have to imagine that all apostates are imbeciles. This seems a tad bit of an unfair characterization, to put it mildly.
I know many atheists who have come out of religion in a similar fashion to me and are more than familiar with the religious modes of thinking. In fact, my previous book Beyond an Absence of Faith focused on this very subject, so I am what you might consider somewhat of an expert in atheists’ views with respect to religion. Although I by no means consider myself a spokesperson for what other atheists believe, as I have found atheists believe a wide array of things.
It is my expert opinion, however, that this religious familiarity which some atheists have has more often than not soured them on religion and not for a lack of knowing what religion teaches or what the religious believe, but in spite of it all. Many atheists leave religion behind because they know it all too well. Think about that and let that sink in.
Of course, the opposite case cannot be made with respect to Christians understanding atheism. Apparently, not many do. Most Christians do not seem to be able to understand how someone could lose faith in what they hold to be a veritable truth and will often play the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy card, but this just goes to underscore the problem, mainly that many atheists—especially those who came out of religious faith like I did—understand Christianity (and religion overall) a whole lot better than many believers seem to.[2] Otherwise, why appeal to the fallacy that ex-Christian, Muslim, or Jews who turned atheist cannot possibly comprehend the religious mindset?
The second issue I have with Randal’s assessment is that if one does not come to reasonable belief about God through inference, then how do they come to it? I honestly would like to know.
It seems if you eliminate inference as a way to infer God either directly or indirectly from religious experience, then you’d only be left with the assertion that God is a lived reality. This is why I say Randal’s reasoning here is confused. Because you cannot argue for the reasonableness of belief in God by merely asserting it is reasonable to believe in God.
Besides this, what is this assertion based off of if not the inference that God is real?
Randal then asks why Sheridan thinks it’s impossible for God to talk to people. The two of them argue for a bit. None of it struck me as particularly interesting. Randal thinks God can talk to people and through people, as most Christians are primed to believe, and Sheridan rejects that notion. Randal then mentions God can speak through events, i.e. by giving us signs, and that pretty much fits with Christian conviction as well. Nothing really interesting was covered here other than rehashing Christian beliefs, so we’ll skip ahead.
A few pages later Randal makes the claim that

Christians can come to have a properly basic knowledge of God in much the way that we gain knowledge through other avenues such as sense perception, reason and testimony. I would contend that basic Christian beliefs like ‘God loves me’ and ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ are properly basic.

Notice that if you merely presuppose God is a reality and, in addition to this, you presuppose that God is a loving God, and then presuppose that God is a personal God, then it’s perfectly easy to come to the conclusion that ‘God loves me’ is a properly basic belief.
But this amounts to smoke and mirrors and doesn’t constitute any real argument for the existence of said God.
Nor is it properly basic, since in order to presuppose God is loving you have to presuppose God is a personal entity capable of love on top of presupposing this loving entity’s existence. In other words, the belief in a loving God breaks down to prior beliefs about God which must all be presupposed before you can get to the belief involving a loving God.
Needless to say, it appears that Randal, being a Foundationalist of sorts, has in mind Plantinga’s ‘warrant’ to believe here. But Plantinga’s argument suffers, basically, for the same reasons. The truth of theism and its positive epistemic status creates a burden of proof for the theist of showing that theistic belief is externally rational or warranted and requires reasons for supposing that theism is true in the first place.
At least, this is the objection to Plantinga’s ‘warrant’ to believe as I understand it. Of course, being a layman and not a professional philosopher, I could be mistaken. I am always welcome to suggested corrections where needed.
A hypothesis, just to remind you, is a proposition put forward for testing and discussion, possibly as a prelude to acceptance or rejection.
Hypothetically speaking, I bet I could get the actress Karen Gillan to fall madly in love with me if I had but just one date with her. Now, such a hypothesis requires testing and discussion before we completely dismiss or accept it. But short of Karen Gillan actually agreeing to go out with me, this hypothesis is merely conjectural. Which is why we tend to say, “hypothetically speaking” in the first place.
Right away Randal runs into a big problem by rejecting God as a hypothesis, because he’s saying such a proposition of God’s reality and the belief in this reality doesn’t require testing and discussion. You don’t even need to be able to intuit God from experience, according to Randal. You just have to accept God as a brute fact, and you have to accept that knowing this brute fact is also a brute fact.
This circular reasoning amounts to a kind of mental masturbation, where God is always more than just the hypothetical because you believe it is so. However, this clearly cannot constitute any kind of reasonable belief. It would be like me stating that Karen Gillan really, truly is madly in love with me because I choose to believe it. It’s not rational, it’s delusional.
So, you see, like my claims about Karen Gillan, Randal’s claims about God still require testing and discussion and so can be no more than a hypothesis. As sad as it is for me to admit the fact that Karen Gillan probably does not love me, considering she has even heard of me, I am much relieved by the fact that it is my properly basic belief that that Jennifer Lawrence girl is simply wild over me.
Okay, so it doesn’t work like that. But if it doesn’t work like that for me, it certainly doesn’t work like that for Randal Rauser and his so-called properly basic belief in God either.

[1] Victor Stenger actually goes one further and claims God is a failed hypothesis. See Stenger’s books God: The Failed Hypothesis and God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.

A 2010 study done by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion & Public Life found that atheists and agnostics tops the list of those with the best religious knowledge, beating out Jews and Mormons. Christians didn’t even make it into the top three. This however is no surprise, since many Christians are religiously illiterate and biblically illiterate too.

According to the 2009 Barna year-end review of Christianity in America, they discovered that modern Christians care more about spirituality than Christianity, and that biblical literacy was neither a goal nor a reality among the majority of Christians in the U.S. All this is simply a polite way of saying that Christians know relatively little about religion. We can only guess at how this impacts belief in God. See the Pew study online at:

Also see the Barna study online at:

Excerpt from The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics (From Chapter 6: What We Should Teach Children)

(From Chapter 6: What We Should Teach Children)

Sheridan holds that religious indoctrination of minors is a form of child abuse. Randal pulls out a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book A Devil’s Chaplain and quotes from the book in which Dawkins laments the fact that his daughter was being given religious instruction without his knowing about it.
As you may know, Richard Dawkins is a strong proponent against the religious indoctrination of children, as he rightly observes that religious indoctrination is little more than telling children what to think and believe, not teaching them how to think critically so that they will be equipped to evaluate their beliefs for themselves when they enter into the age of reason.
Sheridan sides with Dawkins as to the argument of whether or not indoctrinating children into religion is a kind of abuse or not,[1] and challenges Randal on the front that any reasonable person would see that coaching children to fear hell, among other questionable beliefs, without being given the option to so much as question these spoon fed beliefs in such a way as to insight stress, mental anguish, or even emotional outbursts in the children, should be considered, at a minimum, mental abuse.
Randal responds that it possibly could be, and tries to deflect the denunciation by insisting, “It depends, among other things, on whether the doctrine is true and how it is taught.”
I’m going to pause here just to say that, as an educator of children (elementary through junior high school) I can honestly say that teaching any child a fear based doctrine of any sort is most assuredly child abuse when you neglect to teach them to think for themselves perchance they may have the ability to doubt nonsensical teachings such as those depicted in the shocking 2006 documentary Jesus Camp.  Such heavy-handed indoctrination is basically religious brainwashing, and it often leads to radical thinking and behavior in those who have been indoctrinated.[2]
Also, even if the so-called doctrine is true, even one as pernicious as the notion of infinite punishment and torture for finite crimes (or more accurately “crimes” as arbitrarily defined by the religion) it doesn’t necessarily mean that children are ready to be taught it.
We don’t teach children about the intimate details of sexual relationships until they are of a mature age, and I would say the same could probably be said about many religious doctrines, such as the doctrine of Hell (just to cite one example), regardless of whether such doctrines may be true or not.
Besides, let’s be honest, Christians don’t typically say that Hell might be real, so make up your own mind. No! Instead they say that Hell is real, so you better believe this way and act accordingly, or else!
Now, to an adult who doesn’t believe in such things like heaven or hell, all this might seem rather absurd. But to a child who has not mastered critical thinking skills yet, what choice do they have but to put her trust in their parents, their caretakers, and the authority figures in their life?
One of the biggest regrets in my own life, to share a short aside with you, was the time I worked as Christian counselor at a well-known Christian Bible camp where we would often use the tools of emotional blackmail to persuade children to accept Jesus by frightening them with the fear of Hell and, in turn, using their fear of being separated from their loved ones forever (forever!) to compel them to come to Christ.
From the Christian perspective, it was always imperative they accept Jesus right away, because we were in the End Times, after all, and without Jesus tucked neatly away in their hearts their immortal souls would be doomed for all eternity! If they wanted to see their loved ones again (in Heaven), we informed, they must accept Jesus—and they must do it now.
And many of them did accept Jesus. But not because they truly believed in what we were telling them, but because what we were telling them was so goddamn terrifying that they felt they had no other choice but to believe. This is the design of most Bible camps, mind you, to indoctrinate children who haven’t gotten enough of it from their religious parents or their churches.
Looking back now, I view my time as a Bible camp counselor as the shameful act it really is. I partook in a child brainwashing program and I actually rejoiced when I saw the desired outcome of children’s wills being broken and accepting any religious thing I told them. Let me ask you, how sick is that?
So, in the end, after weeks of religious over saturation and mental manipulation, the children had done exactly what we wanted them to do. They had broken down and accepted Jesus. A couple of things need to be said here. First, this isn’t teaching the child how to critically evaluate the concept of Hell for themselves, and actually has the opposite effect by teaching them to fear the very notion of Hell so they don’t question it; and secondly, Hell is a fictional place and until an ounce of evidence for Hell’s existence can be brought to light then I’m afraid the only consideration anyone needs to give it doesn’t even amount to one iota.
Of course, savvy theologians may stop me here to point out that Hell is meant as more of a metaphor for the absence, or separation if you will, of God. If so, then it’s my opinion that this “metaphor” not in tune with the Biblical description of Hell as being a real place of physical suffering and torment, with fire and chains, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth as describe in Holy Scripture. Then again, even if by the slimmest chance the concept of Hell denotes a real spiritual separation with God, there are many more reasons why we shouldn’t be teaching it to small children. Most of all because small children do not fully comprehend esoteric philosophical concepts in the same way as educated adults do, and at the very least, because it’s an unnecessary burden to be forcing a child to have to wrestle with.
As a teacher, I regret instructing the children under my tutelage that Hell was a real thing that they should be concerned about, mainly because it wasn’t really teaching. It was indoctrination. As an educator of children today, looking back on my days as a Christian Indoctrinator of Children (CIC pronounced “Sick”), I realize that I failed to teach them anything of importance, except perhaps an unfortunate life lesson in how to cope with the anxiety of an all too gratuitous summer of Christian Bible camp.

[1] As someone who has children and as an educator of children and someone who once was extremely religious, I have to agree with Richard Dawkins that strict religious indoctrination of children is a kind of mental abuse. But instead of going on at length about why I think so, I will direct you to an excellent lecture by Seth Andrews, aka The Thinking Atheist, titled “Get Them While They’re Young” where he details the often outrageous and shocking tactics of religious organizations to indoctrinate children.

[2] Although not all religion is bad, many have innately bad elements, and child indoctrination often leads to a type of religious maltreatment of children and frequently ignores children’s rights. For a candid look at the various kinds of religious abuse done to children in the name of religion, see Janet Heimlich’s book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quote of the Day: Bruce Gerencser (The Way Forward)

My friend Bruce Gerencser of the blog The Way Forward wrote about how he would defang fundamentalist Xianity in America. His list is not only excellent, it is really insightful, because it shows how much religious theocrats already get away with in America. 


There are several things that can be done to defang Christian fundamentalism:

  • Close and defund the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The government has no business giving tax money to churches.
  • Prohibit tax money from being funneled to private Christian schools via school voucher and school choice programs.  An exception could be made for any school that is state licensed and under the purview of the state board of education.
  • Pass a federal homeschooling standard.
  • Forbid schools from teaching creationism.
  • Forbid churches, pastors, and parachurch groups from having access to public school students during school hours.
  • Enforce the law regarding church endorsement of political candidates. If a church is tax exempt they are not permitted  to campaign for or endorse political candidates. If a church violates this law, they should immediately be stripped of their tax exemption. ( my preference would be to do away with church tax exemption altogether)
  • Eliminate the clergy housing allowance.
  • Require churches to file annual IRS forms.
  • Require churches to pay taxes like any other business, including real estate and sales tax. Exception could be made for social and charitable ministries that are secular in nature.
  • Require churches to follow the same zoning laws as any other business.
  • Make sure every public institution adheres to the strict separation of church and state.

These eleven things would be a good place to start. The umbilical cord connecting state and church must be completely severed. Will this eliminate Christian fundamentalism? No, but it will reduce the influence it has on government. It is then up to voters to elect leaders that understand, respect, and enforce the separation of church and state. Fundamentalists have every right to worship freely, run for office, and lobby their political leaders. But, there is a line they must not be permitted to cross. Any theocratic ambitions or demands must be rejected and exposed as an attempt to breach the wall of separation between church and state.

Until we have a President and a Congress that is willing to stand up to Christian fundamentalists, we can expect continued encroachment by those who have theocratic ambitions.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Quote of the Day: Alan Noble (On Christian Persecution Complex)

In an article published in the Atlantic, Alan Noble (a Christian no less) writes on The Evangelical Persecution Complex and why it seems to be so prevalent in the U.S. even though their is little to no real persecution of Christians. Outside of the U.S. is an entirely different story. What he has to say is, I think, worth listening to.

Traditionally, Christians have had a very broad view of what it means to suffer for Christ—broad enough to include everything from genuine martyrdom to mild ridicule by nonbelievers. Behind this is an essential part of the faith, which says that every Christian will be persecuted by the world: True believers will lose jobs, face exile, and suffer from violence.

For many evangelicals, the lack of very public and dramatic persecution could be interpreted as a sign that they just aren’t faithful enough: If they were persecuted, they could be confident they are saved. This creates an incentive to interpret personal experiences and news events as signs of oppression, which are ostensibly validations of our commitment to Christ. The danger of this view is that believers can come to see victimhood as an essential part of their identity.
Tensions between Christians and non-Christians are likely to grow in the coming years as cultural mores shift, and out of this tension will come negotiations, dialogue, lawsuits, ignorance, and conflict. For evangelicals, preparation for this must begin in our own house, as we learn to better discern good theologies of suffering, edifying stories of persecution, and distorted reports of discrimination.

Ignosticism: A Short Recap of the Ignostic Position

Ignosticism is the philosophical position that most descriptions and definitions of God are incoherent and so cannot be discussed meaningfully. As I have developed some ideas behind Ignosticism more thoroughly, I feel their are six main parts to the Ignostic proposition. It breaks down like this.

1. There are numerous competing descriptions of God.
2. These descriptions sometimes overlap, but are mostly divergent or else in direct conflict with one another, while others completely negate each other (the problem of dissimilarity). 
3. Due to the personal nature of each religion/individual's unique understanding of God, every description of God will always be relative to the person and their particular brand of faith (the problem of confirmation bias).
4. Descriptions of God being relative to the individual, biased by doctrinal prejudices, give rise to even greater nuances between otherwise similar definitions of God whereby the given definition comports with religious theological premises/templates but not any tangible or testable object which could give rise to a verifiable description of said object (the problem of subjectivity).
5. The Ignostic therefore takes the position that due to a problem of dissimilarity in descriptions of God, nearly all definitions which make up the concept of God are rendered incoherent by the fact that virtually all descriptions fail to describe what they are purportedly meant to give description to (the referential problem).
6. Therefor no agreed upon description of the term "God" can be assigned which has any meaning in the way a description of a term would need to in order for it to be meaningful (the justification problem).  

Note: In the above list I have labeled the various problems which Ignosticism helps to identify. 

I think those who pause to think about the consequences of Ignosticism will realize it poses a rather substantial problem for theists, deists, and polytheists.

Although Ignosticism doesn't disprove the existence of any God, it does show that the descriptions provided and the definitions of God do not comport to any coherent understanding of the supposed object these terms are supposed to help define. 

Again, this doesn't disprove God, per say. It merely demonstrates that the descriptions and definitions we use cannot have any agreed upon meaning with respect to what the term "God" is supposed to describe, and this problem is compounded by the fact that all religions/individuals continue to construct their own understanding of God relative to their pre-existing religious experiences and dispositions, and this as a consequence gives rises to more competing descriptions of God.

One consequence of Ignosticism is that it proves that those who believe in a God, or anything like a god, must come to agreement with what they are purporting to describe. That is, the description has to be more than a conceptualization of what the religious individual would like God to be, rather any description provided must describe what God is (should God actually exist).

In other words, in order to bypass the problem of dissimilarity, a referent must be established so that the definition of God is accurately illustrated by the accompanying description.

Subsequently, having an actual referent for the object in question, all definitions of God should, in principle, converge. That is, everyone could come to agreement about what God is, and their descriptions would align thus giving way to matching definitions.

Without any agreement about what it is a religious believer means by the definition of "God", however, it is impossible to understand what it is meant when one asks the question "Does God exist?" or makes the statement "I believe in God."

We first must know, "What do you mean by God?" and how does this related to all the other descriptions and definitions of God?

Of course, many religious adherents are prone to dismiss competing definitions offhand because they don't respect opposing points of view or have religious reasons for ignoring competing religious claims. But even so, this dismissal of claims doesn't do away with the problem of dissimilarity, because one still must justify their description and definition of God before they can claim they believe in said description and definition as an accurate representation of said God.

As such, the problem of Ignosticism can be easily solved if theists, and believers, would simply engage with other competing definitions of God.

Failing to do so would equate to failing to justify one's own terms, and as such whatever definition the believer chooses to use to describe "God" would ever be only a meaningless term.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Frightening Epidemic: America's Obsession With Religion and Unfounded Denial of Science (#I-HEART-BOOBQUAKE!)

I took this amazing shot on my iPhone of the gysers in Yellowstone National park and of the Thermophiles that change the collor of the water to blue, green, and orange.
On the flight over to America (from Japan) I felt bad for the guy sitting across the aisle to my right. He was stuck with two overly devout Christian missionaries who in short order found out he wasn't a believer in the Almighty Christ (TM). 

Before you knew it they had their tray tables down and their Bibles open. 

For the entirety of the jet being taxied onto the runway (approximately 27 minutes) and the takeoff (10 minutes) and the first couple of hours of the flight they preached and proselytized and professed their deepest felt beliefs. Again and again. And... again.

They hit him with every apologetic tactic they had, and as Evangelicals, the arguments were of course all outmoded, outdated, mostly irrelevant, canards that two seconds of thought could reveal as entirely invalid. 

The poor atheist said, "It's just not for me. I'm fine without religion. And I don't need to believe in a book riddled with errors to feel good about my life."

They took horrible offense at this and proclaimed that the Bible was the perfect word of God and had no detectable errors in it. 

My fellow atheist then admitted he didn't know all the historical details off the top of his head, but that he recollected the Bible getting a fair amount of histrocial details wrong. To which our prostrating missionaries, gun-ho for Jesus, hit him up with, "But did you know the Bible is the best attested book in history? It has more surviving copies then any other ancient manuscript too."

My eyes rolled so hard you could probably have heard them tearing our of their sockets. 

They went on like this for several more hours. 

It was exasperating.


Then it dawned on me. It wasn't just that they were recycling twice-baked order made apologetics without thinking about what they were saying that bothered me. It wasn't even what they professed to belief that bothered me. And although their rude encroachment on someones personal space just to share the "Word of God" with some stranger was certainly annoying, that wasn't even the worst part.

What really bothered me about them was their complacency with the questions they raised themselves. Not a single thought ran through their minds that wasn't already preprogrammed for them. 

The beliefs they had were not beliefs they had come to on their own via due diligence and long hours of investigating the issues of religious history and faith. Rather, they simply believed because they had reasons. Not their own mind you, but they had reasons nonetheless.

And that got under my skin.

I so badly wanted to chime in and demolish their arguments one by one and see them get flustered and hot under the collar as an atheist superior to them countered their arguments, put up road blocks to their beliefs, and littered their faith with a minefield of devastating questions ready to set off a daisy chain of intellectual explosions that would get them to think for, well, probably the first time in their lives.

But, alas, I bit my tongue. After all, it was a freaking eleven hour flight. I didn't want to start it off by making enemies. 

I did however feel bad for a fellow atheist. So I gave him reassuring nods as he valiantly tried to state his case amid sudden interruptions and nonsensical changes in subject. I gave him a thumbs up a couple of times and cheered him on. And after the blather of the missionaries died down and the headphones came out, I made a promise to myself to step into the ring and tag my friend out if they tried to double team him again with more senseless proselytizing. 

Luckily, however, it didn't come to that.


I've only been back in America a week, and already I have found out that a large portion are Evolution deniers.

I made the horrible mistake of asking what part of the science didn't they feel was valid, and suddenly the conversation became an exasperated defense of their religious beliefs.

I realized I had inadvertently made them defensive by talking about the *verity of evolution, to which they didn't believe in.

I was handed the argument that my *belief in evolution took at least as much "faith" to believe as any religious believe they may hold.

Of course, I politely corrected myself and said, "Sorry, I misspoke. What I meant was, the evidence for the truth of evolution is undeniable, and I wanted to say I think that since all the evidence seems to support it that I would be really curious to see how one might falsify these scientific facts."

Suddenly, I got the 'carbon dating' defense and the statement that things evolving forms just didn't make sense.

But I get it. Evolution is hard to grasp when you have no scientific understanding and very little in the way of imagination.

But I didn't say this, obviously, because that would have been rude.

Instead, I mentioned the fact that antibiotic resistant bacteria (and here) are a prime example of evolution working in real time, I mentioned the yeast experiment genomics, I talked about the Drosophila (fruit fly) genomic studies of Jerry Coyne (I may have even dropped the name of his book Why Evolution is True), and as for the radiocarbon dating not being entirely reliable, I mentioned that there were other methods of radiometric dating--such as:

There are other methods of radiometric dating:

* argon-argon (Ar-Ar)
* fission track dating
* helium (He-He)
* iodine-xenon (I-Xe)
* lanthanum-barium (La-Ba)
* lead-lead (Pb-Pb)
* lutetium-hafnium (Lu-Hf)
* neon-neon (Ne-Ne)
* optically stimulated luminescence dating
* potassium-argon (K-Ar)
* radiocarbon dating
* rhenium-osmium (Re-Os)
* rubidium-strontium (Rb-Sr)
* samarium-neodymium (Sm-Nd)
* uranium-lead (U-Pb)
* uranium-lead-helium (U-Pb-He)
* uranium-thorium (U-Th)
* uranium-uranium (U-U)

Just to name a few. Actually, I only named uranium and rubidium dating in the moment, but I added a few here just to drive the point home for any of those that still think that carbon dating doesn't cut it because it doesn't always yield accurate results for anything 4000 BP (before present). The simple fact of the matter is, it doesn't, which is why scientists don't use it for that. They have other methods of radiometric dating better suited for the ages of the objects of study, whether it is a fossil or a rock layer.

At this moment my relative mentioned that with all this scientific knowledge I should have become a science teacher. I took that as a well intended compliment and changed the subject. I could see that there was just a disconnect. 

I knew some about science (as rudimentary as my knowledge may be).

And they knew practically nothing related to the science being discussed, and for that matter, science in general.

Then I realized something quite troubling about the whole situation in America.

There are people who would be willing to listen and learn about science, people who could be genuinely excited by it, if it wasn't for their religious beliefs making them think that science was problematic somehow, or that it wasn't reliable somehow, or because their religious beliefs weren't compatible with it somehow, so they, in their piety, chose to deny (or ignore) the validity of science in favor of maintaining their cherished religious beliefs. 

In other words, instead of wanting to learn about the world and how everything works, they want to maintain an incorrect view of the world and brush aside anything that require a modicum of thought, because, well, they've been taught to belief science isn't reliable, trustworthy, and they've been taught that their religious beliefs are, and what's more everything they believe is true (even when it is so obviously not). 

Then I thought again about those missionaries on the plane. They only knew what they had been told. They didn't know how to critically evaluate, skepticism was alien to them, and having to analyze their own beliefs--don't even think about it!

And I saw this same phenomenon happening in my family with regard to their feelings on science. They only know what they have been told about science. They don't know how to critically evaluate the scientific method let alone apply it, skepticism was a foreign concept and so they never had any real reason to invoke scientific concepts like falsification, things were taken at face value and this kind of faith lead them to be entirely lazy when it came to scientific ideas.

Instead of having to grapple with scientific ideas and concepts, they merely waved them off and held fast to their religious beliefs, beliefs which they hadn't come to on their own via due diligence and long hours of investigating the issues of science and the scientific method, but rather, they simply believed the information the received from those who reinforced these religious beliefs rather than challenged them on it.

Naturally, I couldn't help but feel horribly vexed by all this. This prevailing misapprehension of science, the hypersensitivity toward anyone who would question religious ideas or concepts, the general unthinking nature of religious faith, and the way in which this wide-scale scientific ignorance and unthinking acceptance of religion work in tandem to form a mind skeptical of everything but that which it should be skeptical of.

Welcome to America, folks. The land of religion and scientific ignorance.


All this weighs on my mind and on my conscience. It's not just that I think we need science, it's that I think we need to understand it too. Maybe not to the same degree as a well trained scientist, but like our reading, writing, and arithmetic, I do feel we should probably work toward developing a better scientific understanding in American culture and perhaps elsewhere as well.

I found the best way to expand people's scientific knowledge is to simply to challenge them to read popular science books in areas of science they may be interested in. Of course, this requires talking to them first and getting a feel about what interests they have which may have a scientific component. But once the recommendation is made, I let curiosity hand the rest.

I know I won't be able to change one person's mind, especially when that mind is settled by an ever growing wall of misconceptions. But if I can point out the easiest path, the best trajectory, that will take them over that wall, and the books I recommend are good enough, well written enough, and even entertaining enough then their inborn interest and curiosity will do the rest. 

But this requires I stay ahead of the curve. How can I hope to recommend any good science books to anyone if I haven't read any lately myself?

So the challenge to fix America's scientific ignorance epidemic is two-fold. We must not only challenge others but ourselves as well to become better acquainted with science.

It's that simple. 

But as with most things, I suppose, it's easier said than done.

My fear is that if something isn't done, and done soon, America will sink deeper into the quicksand of scientific ignorance while growing even more entrenched in the religious beliefs which smother their intellects and cause their minds to enter into an noncognizant slumber. 

This could only lead to a world as scientifically illiterate and science weary as many of the Islamic states in today's Middle East. I find that a terrifying concept. Pretty soon #Boobquake won't be a funny thing we laugh about at the expense of an ignorant Hojatoleslam several world's away, but rather the bleak future this trend points to, a trend of scientific ignorance taken to such extremes it trespasses into the realm of every imaginable absurdity, will be the norm for America too.

Let's not let that happen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Economics of Going Vegan: A Personal Look at Why It's Easier Said than Done

Disclaimer: Next to religion, politics, and sex it seems to me that the next touchiest subject is probably dietary concerns--what we eat and don't eat. What is contained in this essay are my own personal struggles and experiences with my own diet. The opinions here are my own. If you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them in the comment's section down below. Thank you.

I have been considering going vegan for a while now. 

I've given it a lot of thought, and I even went two months on a vegan diet. The problem is that in the area I live it's just not yet economical enough to sustain indefinitely.

A vegan I know online said I should have no problem doing it, as long as there is a supermarket within distance of my home. 

And there are three. But it's not the distance or even the availability of the produce that is the problem. It's the cost. A 2007 study by Adam Drewnowski found that buying healthy food costs 10 times more on average than your typical McDonald's hamburger

A head of lettuce, you ask? It's nearly three times the amount you would pay in your own local supermarket across the pond, or even your smaller ma' and pa' owned grocers, for that matter. I make a meager living as a teacher and work two jobs just to support my family, so we're strapped as it is. Budget always comes to the forefront of any big decisions.

My vegan friend then said that wasn't a valid excuse. If it comes down to murdering someone (his words, not mine) or paying a little extra for a salad, well, the choice should be obvious, right?

Not so fast.

Apart from the fact that I don't like equating animals to people, since we're more than a little different, if I was single and living alone then, yes, I think I would be willing to pay a little extra  for a vegan meal instead of implicitly killing animals for my food consumption. But the fact of the matter is that it's not just me I have to feed. It's a family of seven, soon to be eight, plus two dogs, and soon to be cat.

That's a lot of mouths to feed. It's a ton of lettuce. And it takes lettuce to by lettuce, if you know what I mean? Let's not forget that a head of lettuce is practically three times more expensive where I live. Same with tomatoes. Soy beans. Broccoli. Spinach. Watermelons. Kiwis. Bananas. Etc. See my problem?

My vegan friend said I should grow my own garden. And on what limited land we have we certainly do. 

My wife's garden is small but quite generous. We have home grown organic tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli. We do strawberries in the off-season. We tried for some corn this year too, but our little patch of land is too narrow and dim. It's only as wide as your average sidewalk and only about three meters long at that. And, well, that's the entirety of our whole yard (one of the problems of living in the middle of a Japanese city--the lack of land). 

The good news is that there are community gardens where you can rent out a plot of land and grow whatever you'd like. But then there are land rental fees, maintenance fees, and you have to transport your own produce from some far off garden area to your home. The cost skyrockets fast. I calculated the cost of renting one for a couple of years and found that it would probably be cheaper to simply buy the land, considering I could afford to do so, which I currently cannot (currently, as of 2014 in Japan, in the Tokyo area it cost over $4,000 USD per squared meter. Not acre ... per meter! for land. I don't live in Tokyo, but I do happen to live in a metropolitan city, so you can grasp my situation).

My vegan friend said that I should move to a more affordable area. 

Since when has moving ever been affordable?

The last move I did cost me $2K--and we had to move in with my wife's family, because, well, Japan ain't cheap... especially for a lowly paid teacher.

Moving would be ideal, but I don't think he was getting the picture. It's not a realistic consideration.

I live in a metropolitan city of over a million people, and a super high population density (Japanese cities are super dense population wise). If I could live out of town a ways and be wealthy enough to have a small plot of land, then yeah, I could see veganism as sustainable for a family of seven, soon to be eight, plus two dogs, and soon to be cat. But as it is, it simply isn't economically viable. 

But don't mistake me, I'm not writing off the possibility.

This year I made the choice to cut my meat consumption by 90%. What does that mean? Well, it means I try *not to eat meat and that I've switched over to a mostly vegetarian diet. I ask for soy milk in my Star Buck lattes and frapuccino's and I try to avoid eating meat as much as possible.  

But why not go the full 100%, you ask? Besides the high cost and not having any land to till, that is. Well, it's mainly because I can't digest rice well. 

Bear with me, the explanation becomes clear in a moment.

Eating rice makes me horribly constipated not to mention horribly fat (too much information, I know). I can do one bowl a day, and even that's a struggle. My Japanese family can down four or five bowls of rice per day, and I don't know how they do it (actually, I do--Japanese people, as with many Asians, have an additional enzymes [CAZymes] and bacteria [Bacterioides plebeius] that assists with breaking down rice and seafood, such as seaweed, that are lacking in most Caucasians).

So, unable to eat large quantities of rice, I am stuck mainly with vegetables. Which is fine. But remember, they're overly expensive where I live (10 times on average, making it roughly 20 times more costly here where I live).

So I still eat wheat products and things made with eggs (pastas and breads). Which is why I say I've adopted a mostly vegetarian diet and not raw vegetarian or vegan diet.

Another factor in this economic pickle of mine is that my time is extremely limited. I am a guy with two full time jobs. I teach full time as a private ESL teacher in three different public schools and I am a full time writer with deadlines set by either my publisher or by me, and on top of all this I am raising a daughter (and soon a boy), two dogs and a soon to be cat, and with everything else I hardly have time for myself. 

I'm not complaining though. I'm just mentioning it so that my excuses don't come off as invalid rationalizations. They are very real concerns. 

Sure, I could drastically uproot my lifestyle, move back to America, and drag my family along with me just to be vegan, but that's rather selfish. I can't think just about myself here, and although it bothers me (and there is some considerable cognitive dissonance) with respect to animal's dying and suffering, my daughter, son, and family is still more important than my cat or dog. If they weren't, then there would be something seriously wrong with my psychology, and quite likely my biology, as we are naturally more nurturing of our own offspring. 

Needless to say, my daughter and I eat a lot of fruit. She's never liked meat or dairy all that much, although she loves ice cream as much as I do, which uses dairy in it (although soy based ice creams are just as delicious and far more nutritious--so we eat that whenever possible). 

So in a typical week we usually sustain ourselves on large mangoes, grapes, a watermelon, peaches, cherries, and plums, boiled soybeans which are lightly salted (known as edamame), broccoli, tomatoes, and miso soup with seaweed. A handful of nuts here and there. And that's normal for us.

Of course, I realize that out of site out of mind doesn't help fix the problem of killing animals for food consumption, which is the main concern of most vegan advocates, I feel. 

Although I agree with their concern, their vitriol for anyone who happens to consume meat is out of place because their concerns, although well meaning from a moral standpoint, are not wholly realistic (as they nearly always neglect the case by case economics that go into making a vegan diet sustainable) nor entirely logical (for the same reasons but also because they let their emotions cloud their thinking about potential ways to limit meat consumption instead of cutting it out entirely--which is a more reasonable first step). 

If the vegan community could find a way to give my entire school district a sustainable vegan meal plan for the same cost as the current one, then I'd definitely like to go in that direction. But I really don't think that's economically viable. Otherwise, I'm sure someone, somewhere, would have tried it by now. This just goes to illustrate that telling people to knock off the meat eating isn't reasonable because it neglects all the real world considerations one must factor into such a massive dietary restructuring, and then the economics of it all comes raging back for serious consideration.

My vegan friend asked me, "What's the matter, you can't pack a salad and take that as your lunch instead?"

I've considered making my own salads and packing them the night before work, but even that gets pretty outrageously expensive. I can't be spending $14 per salad everyday, which is technically what it would cost to buy the produce and make it myself for every meal (let alone my entire family which would more than double the cost--have you ever eaten a $28 salad? Daily?)--even if I mix it up with tofu and what not--there is always a cost to consider. 

But everyone is different. Some might be able to make the switch faster. But talking down to those who haven't, as so many vegan advocates seem to do, is just bad form. You have to have a better method than screaming at people that they're wrong, otherwise you just come off sounding like a raging fundamentalist. 

All considered, I've made deliberate advances toward a vegetarian diet and am eating healthier and improving my food choices considerably. I even started eating vegetarian (meatless) chili this year and found it just as tasty as regular chili. I am now looking for recipes I can use to cook my own vegetarian chili (if you know of any drop it in the comments section below, thanks in advance).

I will continue to limit my meat intake as much as possible in the foreseeable future, and if it should become economically viable for me (and my family) to cut meat out entirely from out diets, I'd be certainly willing to make the switch.

My vegan friend once stated that eating meat is a cultural habit just like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. 

Sorry, but I strongly disagree with this analogy. Mainly because it's a bad analogy. People don't need to eat cigarettes and smoke in order to live, but eating is an entirely other matter. We eat to live, not live to eat. And although alcohol and cigarettes are certainly recreational, eating food wasn't traditionally strictly a recreational activity. 

Additionally, it seems that culture plays a large role in the types of food certain communities do or do not consume. Island cultures, such as Japan and any of the Mediterranean islands, consume seafood far more readily than landlocked areas. 

I would go as far to say that even if the analogy was sound, which it's not, that smoking and drinking are cultural habits, and that if meat eating is a cultural habit now, it certainly didn't begin as one. Which is an important distinction, because it demonstrates that the analogy is strained at best.

Until quite recently, Native Americans all across the Great Plains of North America are hunter gathers which survived on meat products to get them through the long, harsh North American winters when there was little in the way of farming that could be done. This was life for thousands of years, until white settlers came and disrupted everything. Eskimo societies, in Alaska for example, rely mainly on fish and seafood diets because there is not much you can grow on the tundra and in the cold. So it seems eating meat arose out of a cultural necessity for may societies, not merely a cultural recreational activity. It's only in today's modern world that going out for a bite has become a recreational activity of sorts.

As it is, I cannot afford to go all out vegan due to bad economics of the otherwise super healthy vegan lifestyle. But since a sustainable vegan diet must both be affordable and time efficient, I am stuck with the affordability of meat products, made cheap by the over-consumption of animal products and animal farming, regrettably, it seems I will continue to be part of the problem a little while longer.

It's a shame too, because I would love to switch over entirely if it was cost efficient and sustainable for my whole family (because they need to eat too, after all).

Now this brings me to my vegan friends criticism that eating animals is morally wrong in any situation, no matter what, period.

It seems that such idealism is only viable when we can afford to stop eating meat as a society in its entirety and when the vegan diet finally becomes sustainable for all people everywhere regardless of the economics, then that consideration will be one to take seriously. 

Until that time however, we have to remain realistic. 

Humans have adaptable diets, and meat has been a part of hunting and gathering cultures within human societies for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years (humans have been eating meat for approximately 2.5 million years to be exact)

When vegans say that humans are *not suited for eating meat and that we have not sufficiently adapted to meat eating they are not being entirely truthful and may be forgetting about things like meat adaptive genes, lactose tolerance, and the aforementioned Bacterioides plebeius (gained from eating sea foods, particularity fish) which are all part of our evolutionary journey involving meat consumption.  

It's only recently, with the advent of irrigation and farming technologies that we have been able to grow enough food to sustain ourselves as a species, especially as a rapidly growing species in danger or overpopulating. Stopping meat cold turkey, if you'll pardon the pun, is most assuredly easier said than done.

I think it boils down to how do we make such a change happen on a large scale, and, well, that requires better information, better planning, more affordable cost, and more economic access to vegan foods. It requires better patience and understanding on the part of vegan advocates who use the moral concern as an excuse to try and blackmail people who have been raised on meat eating diets. Even if eating meat was purely a psychological issue, which it certainly isn't, but even if it was it stems to reason that you cannot de-program an entire culture in a decade, probably not even a century, probably not even several centuries. Thus vegans must continue to be ambassadors of peace, good reason, and diplomacy--they have a case and I feel they should certainly make it, but with the caveat that the moment they make unrealistic demands their demands become unreasonable. 

Don't mistake me, it's not that the moral consideration here that is misguided, vegans have a genuine moral concern, but it's not compelling to most because, as I have tried to illustrate, it simply isn't realistic. It's idealistic. 

I'd like to go the whole nine yards someday, but until it becomes economically viable I am afraid I am stuck at this 90% grey area. It's not ideal, but it's the best I can do right now. 

In the future I might write a more detailed essay using real statistics which show why economic considerations really do impact whether or not a vegan diet is truly sustainable (if not me, hopefully someone else--it would be beneficial for vegans for targeting economic areas that can be most easily adapted to more sustainable and cost efficient means regarding vegan foods while showing them other areas where serious works needs to be done). 

Veganism may be sustainable and economically viable for some, but not for others, and that's my whole point. I for one am willing to work with vegans to make it truly sustainable so that their concerns will become realistic for all of us instead of simply the idealism of the vegan advocate.


Advocatus Athesit

Advocatus Athesit